Release Date – 26th December 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Director – Joel Coen
When a trio of witches (Kathryn Hunter) prophesise to Lord Macbeth (Denzel Washington) that he will become king of Scotland he finds himself pushed by his wife (Frances McDormand) to murderous extents to bring this sooner rather than later.
More often than not the biggest turn away from Shakespeare for a number of potential modern audience members is the language. It acts as a form of barrier from truly being able to access the events occurring on stage, or in the film. Back in 1996 Baz Luhrmann kept Shakespeare’s original words but brought them into the setting of the modern day. Allowing the visual style of the famous narrative to help tell the story just as well in the more up to date context. With his latest venture, and first without brother Ethan, Joel Coen doesn’t quite bring Macbeth into a 21st Century setting, not just because of the occasional look of a studio-era Hollywood production, but creates a gothic and atmospheric tale that visually strikes you and brings you into the shrouding mists that surround the handful of locations throughout the piece.
By choosing to shoot the film in black and white Coen adds an extra layer to the gothic style which emphasises the mindsets of both Lord and Lady Macbeth – both excellently performed by Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand respectively. As the two delve into murderous intentions when the former is told by three witches (all wonderfully, physically performed by Kathryn Hunter seeming like one, eerily twisting creature) that he will one day become king of Scotland there’s an easy to follow nature to the unfolding events. The potential language barrier falls down as Washington and a powerhouse McDormand – absolutely commanding the screen! – provide performances which are far from what some may deem as ‘generic Shakespeare style’. Their delivery is everything and helps to life the film and build up its atmosphere.
The expansive home in which they live, almost like a cold, stony palace in itself, is a dark and seemingly limitless place. It increasingly feels more like a prison than somewhere of warmth. The feeling of entrapment simply enhances as we see the dark thoughts and intentions that the pair spiral down into in the hopes of making Macbeth king, particularly as he finds himself encouraged and somewhat manipulated by his wife. It simply causes the environment to become colder and tenser as he questions his own actions and what he’s willing to do to fulfil what’s clearly his destiny.
It’s all paired with a strong visual style which has been finely crafted to help tell the story just as well as anything else. Sometimes it’s the strongest element, pushing across some of the creepier, bordering on horror-like, details – particularly when it comes to the effective impact of the interpretation of the witches. Such attention pays off as it helps gradually bring you into the film and the cold, grey, endless plains in which it takes place – even when indoors. From there Coen allows his two leads to truly take the stage, giving two triumphant, considered performances that capture the dark edge and heart that lies within the film – truly getting across the titular tragedy of the central two figures, and those around them. It all comes together to create something accessible that has multiple working layers to tell its story, hopefully able to connect and bring in different audience members, regardless of their connection and knowledge of Shakespeare in general, especially the original text and outline of Macbeth.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth first brings you in with its strong visual style, pushing the horror and tragedy early on and luckily managing to work throughout the film. Once Washington and McDormand demonstrate their sensational performances the possible language barrier for some is hopefully knocked down as the darkness of the piece comes into fuller effect.